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Summary: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

“In America, two‐thirds of workers are unhappy with their jobs. And 15 percent actually hate their work.” ‐ Dave Evans and Bill Burnett

How can you be one of the rare few who is happy at work?

Step #1: Design Your Lives

“We know you’ve got at least three viable and substantially different possibilities in you. We all do. Every single one of the thousands of people we’ve worked with has proved us correct in this. We all have lots of lives within us. Of course, we can only live out one at a time, but we want to ideate multiple variations in order to choose creatively and generatively.” ‐ Dave Evans and Bill Burnett

Book Summary: Designing Your Life - How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Life #1: Your Optimized Life

In your ‘Optimized Life’ you find a way to optimize your current career path so that you are doing more activities that make you feel engaged and energized, and fewer activities that make you feel bored and exhausted.

To find the building blocks for this life you need to start a “Good Time Journal.”

The goal of your “Good Time Journal” is to uncover the (A.E.I.O.U.) activities, environments, interactions, objects (i.e., tools you use to perform tasks), and users (i.e., people you help) that make you feel engaged while working. At the end of the day for the next three weeks, reflect on the times you were focused and lost track of time. Write down the A.E.I.O.U. components of those experiences. Then, next to each item, rate the energy you felt afterward on a scale of ‐5 to 5. For example, a client meeting might be engaging but it drains your energy and makes you feel exhausted afterwards.

After three weeks you’ll start to see a consistent set of experiences that make feel engaged and energized. How could you craft your current career so that you can have more of these experiences (more training, new assignment, remote work arrangement, etc.)?

Take out a piece of paper, draw five boxes to represent the next five years, and do simple sketches for each year (use stick‐men, basic objects, and keywords to illustrate what each of the next five years might look like).

Live #2: Your Alternate Life

In your “Alternate Life,” the career path you were on vanishes. Either your market collapsed (ex: the phonebook market in the 90’s), or Artificial Intelligence can do your job better than you.

What industry would you transfer your skills to? Go back to your “Good Time Journal” and see what engaging and energizing experiences you could experience while working in another industry. Complete a five‐year sketch for this life.

Live #3: Your Fascinated Life

In your “Fascinated Life,” you are doing what you would do if money and image were no object.

Is there something that you’re fascinated with and always wanted to do but were afraid you wouldn’t make enough money or people would laugh at you for doing it?

Take out a piece of paper and sketch out the next five years of “Your Fascinated Life.” It’s OK if it seems a bit crazy. The more you design it, the more realistic it will appear.

Step #2: Sample Your Lives

After you’ve sketched out your three lives, you might discover a life you want to commit to. Don’t! Hold back and test your assumptions first. Most common assumption: “You’ll enjoy the day‐to‐day experience of your future life.”

The most efficient way to test your assumptions and have a sample experience of a future life is to conduct prototype conversations. Prototype conversations include reaching out to people on LinkedIn or finding someone at a conference which is doing what you want to do and asking them if you could buy them coffee or have a 15‐minute Skype call so that you can hear their story.

There are hundreds of people online who are living a life similar to the life you’re considering. If you can get them to meet for a 15‐minute video call or a 15‐minute coffee, ask about their story, and absorb the good and bad parts of their life, you’re far less likely to commit to a life that you’ll later regret.

The most important principle to remember when ‘designing your life’ is that you don’t know what you want until you experience it.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” – Steve Jobs


The book is a self-help guide that applies the principles of design thinking to help people create a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. The authors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, are both professors at Stanford University’s Design Program, and they have taught a popular course on this topic for many years. They argue that design thinking can help anyone, regardless of age, background, or career, to design and build a life that suits their values, passions, and goals.

The book consists of five parts, each containing several chapters that explain the concepts and tools of design thinking, as well as exercises and examples to help readers apply them to their own situations. The parts are:

  • Part One: Start Where You Are. This part introduces the idea of design thinking and how it can be used to address the problem of finding a satisfying and joyful life. It also helps readers assess their current situation and identify their workview and lifeview, which are the beliefs and assumptions that guide their choices and actions.
  • Part Two: Building a Compass. This part helps readers define their direction and destination by using techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping, odyssey planning, and prototyping. It also teaches readers how to reframe dysfunctional beliefs and overcome common obstacles such as gravity problems, anchor problems, and immunity to change.
  • Part Three: Wayfinding. This part shows readers how to navigate their way towards their desired life by using strategies such as choosing well, making decisions, taking action, iterating, and learning from failure. It also emphasizes the importance of curiosity, generosity, mindfulness, and resilience in the process of designing one’s life.
  • Part Four: Getting Unstuck. This part addresses the challenges and difficulties that readers may encounter along the way, such as feeling stuck, bored, burned out, or unhappy. It offers solutions such as finding flow, creating energy, developing a growth mindset, seeking help, and finding joy.
  • Part Five: Designing Your Life. This part summarizes the main points of the book and encourages readers to keep designing their lives with creativity and optimism. It also provides some additional resources and tips for further learning and practice.

Key Takeaways:

  • Life is a design problem: The authors argue that life is a design problem that requires a conscious and intentional approach to creating a well-lived life.
  • The four steps to designing your life: The book outlines four steps to designing your life, which are: (1) discover, (2) dream, (3) design, and (4) deliver. These steps provide a framework for readers to follow as they design their lives.
  • The importance of mindset: The authors emphasize the importance of having a growth mindset, being open to new experiences, and embracing failure as a learning opportunity.
  • The role of storytelling: The book highlights the power of storytelling in shaping our lives and encourages readers to craft their own story.
  • The value of prototyping: The authors introduce the concept of prototyping as a way to test and refine one’s ideas and designs.
  • The importance of feedback: The book stresses the importance of seeking feedback from others and being open to constructive criticism.
  • The role of community: The authors emphasize the importance of building a supportive community to help navigate life’s challenges.

The book is written in a clear, engaging, and conversational style that makes it easy to follow and understand. The authors use many anecdotes and stories from their own lives and those of their students and clients to illustrate their points and make them relatable. The book also contains many diagrams, charts, tables, and worksheets that help readers visualize and organize their ideas and plans.

The book is based on solid research and evidence from various fields such as psychology, neuroscience, sociology, education, business, and engineering. The authors cite many studies and sources that support their claims and recommendations. The book also draws on the wisdom and experience of many renowned designers, thinkers, writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and leaders who have used design thinking to create successful products, services, organizations, and lives.

The book is suitable for anyone who wants to improve their quality of life and achieve their full potential. It is especially helpful for people who are facing transitions or uncertainties in their personal or professional lives, such as students, graduates, job seekers, career changers, retirees, or anyone who feels dissatisfied or unfulfilled with their current situation. The book is also useful for people who want to learn more about design thinking and how it can be applied to various domains and challenges.

The book is not a quick fix or a magic formula that guarantees instant results. It requires readers to be open-minded, willing to experiment, ready to fail, and committed to learn from their experiences. It also requires readers to invest time and effort in doing the exercises and following the steps outlined in the book. The book is not a one-size-fits-all solution that prescribes a specific path or outcome for everyone. It acknowledges that each person is unique and has different needs, preferences, values, and goals. It empowers readers to discover their own answers and solutions by using design thinking as a framework and a mindset.

The book is an inspiring and practical guide that shows readers how to use design thinking to create a life that is well-lived and joyful. It provides readers with the tools and skills they need to design their own lives with confidence and creativity. It also challenges readers to rethink their assumptions and expectations about what constitutes a good life and what makes them happy. It invites readers to join a community of life designers who are constantly learning from each other and improving themselves.

Target Audience:

“Designing Your Life” is recommended for individuals who are looking to create a more fulfilling and joyful life. The book is particularly useful for those who are looking to make a career change, start a new business, or simply seeking to improve their overall well-being.

In conclusion, from these search results, it appears “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” offers innovative and thought-provoking approaches to reshaping one’s life and career. The application of design thinking to life planning gives the book a unique twist, making it an engaging read for those seeking change or improvement in their careers or personal lives. However, to fully appreciate the methodologies and perspectives offered by Burnett and Evans, it is recommended to read the entire book personally.

Here are some additional thoughts on the book:

  • I really appreciated the way that the book emphasized the importance of experimentation and iteration in the design process. It’s important to remember that there is no one right way to design a life, and that we should be willing to try new things and make changes as needed.
  • I also liked the way that the book encouraged readers to be creative and to think outside the box. There are no limits to what we can achieve in our lives if we are willing to be open to new possibilities.
  • I think that Designing Your Life is a book that everyone should read, regardless of their age or stage in life. It’s a book that can help us to clarify our goals, identify our passions, and create a life that we love.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a thought-provoking and practical guide to creating a well-lived life. The book’s focus on design thinking, mindfulness, and self-awareness makes it a unique and valuable resource for anyone seeking to make positive changes in their personal and professional lives.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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